Captain Fantastic – Film Review by Emily Elphinstone
Director: Matt Ross
Writer: Matt Ross
Stars: Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha Isler
Captain Fantastic may sound like yet another super-hero film, but refreshingly it presents a very different, intensely human hero; captain only to his close-knit family. Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) is the man in question, raising his six children deep in the forest-covered wilderness of Washington State; living at one with nature by hunting and foraging for food, their home made of wooden huts and communal tepees.
Far from being an idealised view of family life in the woods, there is as much military-style fitness training and academic study, as there are sing alongs around the campfire and dawn yoga. But the real drama comes when the family are forced to enter ‘civilisation’. Introducing the children to the outside world for the first time, the family must travel to New Mexico in their camper van (named ‘Steve) to attend, or prevent, their mother’s funeral; which is being organised by her parents (Frank Langella and Ann Dowd) at odds with her final wishes. The children may be versed in multiple languages, politics, and quantum physics, but they’re lacking in social norms, leading to a struggle to interact with their computer fanatic cousins, and leading to one of the highlights of the film as oldest son Bodevan (George McKay) has his first kiss and promptly proposes marriage.
Alongside some powerful performances from the young cast, Viggo Mortensen steals the show in a role he was surely born to play; balancing his incredibly strong ideology against an increasing vulnerability, and fear that his beliefs have caused more harm than good. Frank Langella gives a powerful performance as father in law Jack, struggling to understand the alternative way of life, and blaming Ben for his daughter’s death.
Writer/Director Matt Ross (better known as Gavin Belson in Silicon Valley) refuses to play the extremes of clashing ideology for laughs, instead giving understanding to both sides equally rather than issuing judgement. This leaves the audience space to consider the complexities of belief systems, modern living, and raising children, without attempting black and white answers. With echoes of Little Miss Sunshine, the film balances a refreshingly original independent movie story, with stunning production values from cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine (A Prophet) editor Joseph Krings, and production designer Russell Barnes. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, but mostly importantly you’ll be thinking and talking about it long after. With the number of new releases nowadays it is often hard to find one that will truly stick in the mind; but Ross’s film certainly lives up to the title. Fantastic.